Time and space are more nebulous in the Hindu world. The Sanatana Dharma, “the eternal law”, preceded the religion that followed. The stories of Krishna and the Mahabharata are in the distant past because they are archetypes outside of time, but played out in our world to teach us the subtleties and complexities of dharma.
Dharma with its multiple implications of virtue, morality, religion, justice, eternal law, and cosmos described their religion. The term Hindu, was later imposed. Hindh” is Persianfor the river “Sindh“,the Indus river which has shaped the people for generations.
For the pattern of life along the Indus civilization was shaped by forces outside of oneself. A mud house could be cooled by the sprinkling of water, or warmed by the sun to keep out the night chill.
History and economics have added their presence to nature. Fifty-five centuries of civilization -traditions and precedents moulded into concrete realities over a hundred and seventy generations – are sometimes an unmovable weight.
Now with satellite imagery, Science positivist masculinity – like modern media – simplifies life in terms of black and white. That which is not understood is all too easily dismissed as myth. Narratives don’t like complexity and conquerors usually recreate the past.
With its four facades facing north, east, south, and west, Mount Kailas looks like an enormous diamond. Seventy-five percent as high as Mount Everest, the mountain is one of the tallest peaks in the Himalayas. Nearby is the source of the Indus, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra Rivers. The source of the Ganges is not far away. On its southern face, a vertical gash crosses horizontal layers, creating the image of a swastika. The word comes from svastika, Sanskrit for well-being and good fortune. Buddhists regard the mountain as a mandala -— the sacred circle from which the sacred rivers flow like the spokes of the eternal wheel.”
– Colin Wilson
At 6714 metres it is dwarfed when compared to Everest, but hidden behind a sea of Himalayan mountains, and seen from a distance, its isolated snow capped beauty, overlooks the blue-green emerald of lake Mansarovar and the Rakshas TaI, in the south, evokes a sense of the infinite cosmos that embraces our minute world. It brings men to their knees as if before divinity in solid form.
Each face has its own moods: snowy splendor to the south, compassion and benevolence to the West, stark foreboding to the north, and distant, inaccessible mystery to the south. Within 100 kilometres, flow Asias four largest rivers: the Indus flows to the north, the Brahmaputra to the east, the Sutlej to the west, and the Karnali to the south, leading to the Ganges.
The Jains believe Rishabhanatha, the first of our ages twenty-four saviors, was enlightened on Kailash,. Nearby, Shenrab, the legendary founder of Bon, taught and meditated. Sikhs revere Hemkund, a mountain lake near the source of the Ganges, as the place where Guru Gobind Singh, the last of their ten principal teachers, meditated in a previous life. Here, the Tibetan yogi Milarepa, attained enlightenment.
Colonial politics of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas have since shaped the public narrative. Now the Tibetan Plateau is world confused by ideology: West vs communism, when India was “non aligned” and the Dalai Lama had fled to India.
In the 17th century it’s mystery was whispered to in the West. Herodotus had written about gold digging ants, others spoke of haunt of the yeti or the one footed Theurang, wind horse and snow line, magical saddhus, and the Dalai Lama. From the mystical north, the theosophist Madame Blavatsky claimed she encountered monks capable of telekinesis., Himmler tried to find proof of Aryan supremacy and James Hilton set his Shangrila.
Throughout this distant land were rumors of lost Christians, that the Jesuits discovered were Tibetan Buddhists, the Dutch were ‘Red Hairs’ the Spanish ‘shape shifting foreigners’ t the Chinese who under a circular heaven that had corresponding place above for every place on earth.
There are also universal themes:
Metaphysical Meru, or Tise, was believed manifest on earth as Kalais (the crystal), or Kang Rinpoche (Jewel of Snows). Claimed the navel of the earth ( a term used by Jews of Jerusalem, and Olympus by the Greeks), axis of the universe, and source of Asia’s four great rivers, the hidden source of the Ganga, Sutler, Indus and Brahmaputra were revealed behind the ramparts of the Himalayas.
Four great rivers? From Eden is said in the Hebrew texts to have had a river that broke into four heads, and historians like Josephus tried to maps the Ganges, Nile, Euphrates and Tigris to a central point.
So as I look at this mandala of the world, I see Meru, not mapped with cartographic precision, but by a code of meaning. It cannot be described as “wrong” because we have not figured out it’s code.
In that world, the myths of religion are outside of time and space, unable to be touched by science, and so should not criticise or be criticised by the different world views.
The Mandela of Meru offers a profound reflection on the possibilities and perils of pursuing cross cultural understanding.
From a top this world perhaps we can view the world of soul as did James Hillman:
Let us imagine the anima mundi [world soul] neither above the world encircling it as a divine and remote emanation of spirit, a world of powers, archetypes, and principles transcendent to things, nor within the material world as its unifying panpsychic life-principle. Rather let us imagine the anima mundi as that particular soul-spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form.
For myriad myths and fantasies shape the polytheism of our psychic lives, just the constellations astrologers have fantasized onto our maps of the heavens.
The conquest of science, a noble pursuit as it is, is fuelled by positivist masculinity, as well as creativity which too many seems feminine. Aren’t we both masculine and feminine, right and left brained?
Kalais appears the Olympus of the East and seemed to improbable to believe in. So the Western world preferred Ptolemy’s cartography.
Tibetans claim a compassionate Bodhisattva cut an outlet through the Himalayan peaks to form the Tibetan plateau. Geologists claim the plateau preceded the mountain wall forced up from clashing continental plates and eroded down over eons.
The lofty peaks can easily be imagined a home of the gods. The Aryans described the abode of snow, Himavant, Himachala, or Himalaya. In the cosmology of Meru, it is a mountain of blazing appearance. In the Mahabhrarata the ranges are “kissing the heavens by its height” “shining like the morning sun and like a fire without smoke, immeasurable and unapproachable by men of manifold sins.”
A top Meru is Swarga, the heavenly city of Indra, Vedic god rain and storm, “a paradise “furnished with heavenly flowers and fruit and covered everywhere with bright gold dwellings”
“According to ancient religious texts, the abode of creator Brahma is called Brahmaloka, the abode of Lord Vishnu is called Vaikunta ad the abode of Lord Shiva is called Kailash. Of the three, one can only go bodily and return in this life from Kailash having experienced divinity.”
Navel of the earth, and the axis of the universe, from where water flowed into a mountain lake, four rivers flow. The Himalayan was to south, and west deserts of Takla Makan to and Gobi to north and east.
The world made of seven continents with seven oceans. From centre island rises Meru “like the pericap of a lotus’ that sits between three mountains to the north and three to the south, claims the Vishnu Purana.
Eighty- four thousand leagues high, with four faces like crystal, ruby, gold and lapis lazuli. From the big toe of Vishnu’s left foot comes ‘the stream that washes away all sin, the river Ganga, embrowned with the unguents of the nymphs of heaven, who sported in its waters.’ After washing the inner orb, circling the mountain, it divides into for mighty rivers t each corner of the earth: Sita, Alaknanda, Chaksu and Badra.
The first, flowing upon the tops of the inferior mountains on the east side of Meru, flows upon their crests and passes through the country of Bhadrashva to the ocean: the Aleknanda flows south, to the country of Bharatha and, dividing into seven rivers on the way, falls into the sea: the Chaksu falls into the sea after traversing all the western mountains and passing through the country of Ketumala: and the Badra washes the country of the Uttara Karus and empties itself into the northern ocean.’
This image is mirrored in the Jain swastika mantra, the tantric mandela of Tibet, the Hindu yantra and the upturned bowl of Sanchi’s great stupa, crowned with its symbolic tree. The yogi mentally places himself within the image his spinal column at one with meru, deepened into an earth consciousness. He achieves union of opposing forces of earth water, male and female,, light and dark,what Taoists call , yin and yang; Tibetans call yab and yum, and the Shaivite Tantra calls Shiva-Shakti .
Modern scholars suggest that as the Aryans pushed eastward the Ganges became the most vital and sacrosanct of rivers. As the form of mother goddess Ganga Mai , she provides for 1/3 of India’s population. The Jaganmatri, or Divine Mother has so many forms: Parvati, with smooth and clear skin under her veil. Ouma is also called Parvati, daughter of the Himalaya, literally “abode of the snows”. She can also turn into Kali for victory.
The dwelling place of God Siva, the Supreme Yogi, naked and smeared with ashes, sits on a tiger skin, matted hair coiled o his head in meditative bliss. Though the supernatural power of his third eye he calmly surveys the illusion of life’s and is able to destroy the illusion binding us to the cycle of death and rebirth. j When He rises to dance, He takes on the functions of Brahma and Vishnu and creates and preserves the universe itself.
Here, the King of the mountains, Himalaya, lives with his queen, the Goddess Mena, in a palace of gold, attended by divine guardians, maidens, and magical beings.
It is hard to imagine a more potent symbol of inspiration. he Himalayas stretch 1,500 miles rising from the monsoon- drenched jungles north of Burma to sweep its great arc along the borders of India and Tibet, through Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal, up to the glaciers of the Karakoram on the remote desert between Pakistan and China.
Millions of years ago the summit of Mount Everest lay beneath an ancient sea, called Tethys, separating Asia from India. Over eons the tectonic plates collided to fold and thrust up the peaks of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, The fractured crust filled magma, and glacial action, formed walls and peaks of granite and preexisting rivers have cut through the range creating the deepest valleys in the world. The Kali Gandaki Valley between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri in central Nepal is nearly four miles deep.
“The Earth’s most dramatic features, mountains are to Hindus the abode of Gods, the haunt of holy sages and the supreme pilgrimage destination.
Viewed through the eyes of a Buddhist or Hindu, mountains are mystical realms of Gods, heavens, spirits and spiritual masters.
– Edwin Bernbaum
The ancient poets and sages regarded the range as an earthly paradise sparkling with streams and forests set beneath snowy beautiful peaks. Above this earthly paradise lie the heights of heaven..
To die on her banks and be caste in her waters is to be delivered to heaven. Dip 3 times under the waters is to be cleansed of all sins.
As devotees bathe, change into a a clean dhoti , they are for at least that moment changed into a new person , who has completed a turn in the wheel of life, death and rebirth.
High caste Hindus in 4th final stage of life begin their final pilgrimage from Ganga – Dwara. So inaccessible are holiest of places a pilgrim places their life in the lap of the gods and to free them self from the cycle of rebirth.
They shave their head and beard, conduct their own funeral and take on pale ochre robes symbolising their purification in a funeral pyre.
“One of the greatest and most austere pilgrimages, Mount Kailas, Himalayan abode of Lord Siva, is sacred to five religions. Pilgrims perform a three-day, 33-mile circumambulation of the peak. At the foot of Kailas lies Lake Manasarovara, symbolizing a quieted mind, free from all thought. Kailas is the Mount Meru of Hindu cosmology, center of the universe. Within 50 miles are the sources of four of India’s auspicious rivers.“
Meru as a model of the unconscious mind and healing
Religion imbues meaning to space: think of Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome, Karbal, or Kailas. For place is an idea, consciously and deliberately constructed, then propagated in an ordered fashion an imposed on the physical landscape .
We also map these values onto our bodies and on time: certain body parts are purer, certain times more auspicious, so some places are charged more with energy.
Kalais is mapped for great meaning as a mandala for the souls pursuit of enlightenment.
The Buddhist mandala of Demchog on Kailas portrays the universe as a circle of mountains, oceans and continents arrayed around a mountain Meru at its centre. Called Sumeru by Buddhists and Meru by Hindu’s.
As the divine access of the cosmos, it is important to both Hindu and Buddhist thought. Brahma is said to live on its summit with other deities surrounding him.
In the early texts, Kalais and Meru are separate peaks bt later traditions merged them into one idealized peak.
Some devotees say the Kailash is the Shivalinga; others that it is Mount Meru, the presence of eternal in time.
Today both there are Tibetans and Indians view Kailas meeting of earth and divine, where the heavenly Meru meets the earthly plane. A pilgrimage to Meru is a journey to the center of the universe, where all begins and ends.
“As dew is dried up by the morning sun so are sins of men dried up by the sight of the Himalaya, where Shiva lived and whee the Ganga falls from the foot of Vishnulike the slender thread of a lotus flower. There are no mountains like the Himalaya, for in them are Kalais and Manasarovar.”
Astonished travelers, passing below that inaccessible peak, view afar a vast snow formation resembling a palace, with icy domes and turrets.
The Kailas peak full of dark black rocks with head adorned with glittering white snow stood like a leader amongst the long stretch of black mountains. “My body experienced horripilation and my mind immersed in the ocean of bliss was overcome with joy” – Sri Swami Tapovanam
The yantra to circle Kalaish can be performed in three days, a walk of around 50 kilometers, paying homage to Siva or Demchog, makes contact with something deep within themselves to a vision of the supreme reality that infuses our cosmos. Every step is rich with prayers and praise of those who have walked the way for eons before them .
Tibetans make three, five, or thirteen circumambulations of Mount Kailash, or even more. Sometimes they prostrate themselves, rising to walk the length of one prostration only, then once again falling to the ground. To circle the mountain in this way may take up to four weeks of patient and meditative movement. These pilgrims may then turn and return, rapt in their awareness of the eternal. The way has no beginning and no end.”
– Jennifer Westwood
Hence, to many Hindus and Buddhists, the pilgrimage to Kailas is is the most ardous and sacred journey in the pursuit of enlightenment.
Many believe at Kalaish, the Ganges, holiest river of all, cascades from heaven to first touch the Earth and course invisibly through the locks of Siva’s hair before spewing forth from a glacier 140 miles to the west.
Nearby is Lake Mansarovar, Lake of the Mind . Hindu myth claims the lake was first created in the mind of the Lord Brahma. Myths claim it was the summer home of swans, considered sacred and wise. Buddhists link it to Anotatta Lake, where legend claims Queen Maya conceived the Buddha.
Annually during the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra the hardiest of Hindu pilgrims take the dangerous journey over high passes to bathe in Manasarovar’s icy waters and cleanse their minds of sins by ancient monasteries, like Chiu Gompa Monastery built into a hill as if carved from the rock.
Interestingly in South India, the Tamil Sangam spoke of a legendary continent Kumari Kandam, named after a gentle maiden, the Divine Feminine. So perhaps we imagine our collective mind and its archetypes, not as an iceberg, but as the Himalayan plateau, eroded by Yugas of time.
Making Life A Sacred Experience
India and the river mirror each other bubbling ever changing and like India the river is impossible to grasp entirely. India’s elusive deep eddies and currents are like game within a game of her politics.
Surface shines clear but a river can also prove dangerous to strangers
To many the Indus and Ganges are the cradle of life. We could say India’s great gifts are her five great rivers that cradled life to civilizations.
From mountain abodes of eternal snow along the long Indus, carry mineral sediment and the rites of mourners from Tibet, to the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. As environmentalists battle over what is sacred, I am struck in in grief for the earth
Is our environmental pain a blocked grieg denied by emotional block of disconnected logic? We need to recover the sacred masculine, the spiritual warrior, the father and beat the drum in prayer lest our addictive grief turn to anger and violence.
If clouds be the calligraphy of god, then the earth is a Mandala that connects us through our first chakra. Meru asks us to connect earth to heaven, and we beneath are a caterpillar do we know deep inside us to become a butterfly.
Faced with a problem African singers that sing back and forward dance imagine, evoke, strum and sing the issue and see what happens. They go into an inner state of being something they incarnate the essence of the challenge.
Similarly, a Mandala offers us a focal point for the power of ritual.
Making Ritual builds community. India and Tibet have their own rituals, as does the West, with festivals that bring art to the streets, psychoanalysis and politics. To often they are more show than transformational and economics overpowers sensitivity.
Let us look at the ancient mandala, not as a map, but a cosmological, geographic, historical divination and psycho-spiritual puzzle.
Kalaish is said to be the naval of the world reminding me of the cosmic Purusha, the cosmic man.
The disciple leads the prana until Mooladhara.
The air thus inspired awakens the lower Fire which was asleep, meditating on Pranava that is nothing else than Brahman,
And concentrating his thought, he rises the breath until to the lower Fire, until the navel and beyond, within the subtle body.
On the top of the body, over the head there is the lotus with thousand petals, shining like the heavenly Light.
It’s that which gives the liberation. Its secret name is Kailash, the mountain where Shiva abides.
The one who knows this secret place is delivered from samsara.
– Amritananda Upanishad
In india, life was accepted as it is, a child knew not to reach under a tablecloth, or into an unlit cupboard in case there lay a coiled cobra. The Night guards thump stout lathes into ground warning would be thieves keeping innocents awake . Meanwhile, deep in the jungles and atop the Himalayas, yogis sit so still that in the forest jungle a predator ignore them as part of the fauna.
Most may still walk from the village to the field with a bullock or buffalo cart, but now the modern incarnation in the city has pneumatic tyres. Millions on cycles and a growing number of motor bikes
The world is changing and the problems in one culture can be solved with the solutions of another
Whatever choice India makes requires deep contemplation of opposing yet complementary forces.
The four rivers said to flow from meru, like the rivers from biblical Eden, remind me of four elements medieval metaphysics:, water, air, fire, and earth, match the four qualities of warmth, dryness, wet, and cold. The feminine the waxing, moist, and cold moon and the warm dry sun are balanced when coupled like a woman open to her husband.
Even the very first alchemists said not to think that this was meant concretely, that it was just a way of introducing order into our ideas” wrote psychoanalyst Marie-Louise von Franz. “which means you see clearly an image of totality through the four qualities projected onto matter; even in those days it was simply a symbolic network which the human mind projected onto matter to bring order into it.
So what do I see in Meru?
Paramahansa Yogananda reminds us “Mythological tales in the Purana say that the Himalayas are the abode of Shiva …” explaining “Parvati, Kali, Durga, Uma, and other goddesses are aspects of the Divine Mother of the World, variously names to signalize particular functions. God or Shiva in His para or transcendental aspect is inactive in creation. His shakti (energy, activating force) is relegated to His “consorts,” the productive “female” powers that make possible the infinite unfoldments in the cosmos.
The duality of sun and moon, ireinds me of the bridge between heaven and earth. A scientist knows particle, energy, time-space, and electro-magnetism are interwoven, they are useful as separate concepts. Similarly, a man sees in his lover the feminine in himself, as the moon reflects the sun and on earth the divine finds a reflection of our own personal experience of heaven at Meru.
Women emphasize process, inner world connectivity inner weaving are as important the fullness not just the outcome. Men seem outcome driven.
India, like her ancient rivers have a beautiful feminine quality, and how will it merge with the overpowering masculinity of economic demand?
The coniunctio as a harmonious balance between heaven and earth, like the moon and sun, and man and woman. What is unknown in our self is found in completeness of union of the other in love. Meister Ekhart called it the marriage of the sacred masculine and divine feminine.
Meru offers devotion and contemplation of divine love.
It allows us, in the words of poet Mary Oliver “to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
To look deep within and find what we know from somewhere deep within. To love, and to let go, in the cycle of life.
Colin Wilson, The Atlas of Holy Places & Sacred Sites, Penguin Books Ltd., 1996 p. 119.
 Charles Allen, A Mountain in Tibet: 18.
 Dr. Sethumadhava Mount Kailash, Where the Heaven meets the Earth
 Charles Allen, A Mountain in Tibet: 21-23.
 Hinduism Today, May 1997
 Jennifer Westwood, Sacred Journeys , Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997 p.78.
 In the ancient scheme there were five, as there are in Ayurveda and TCM. Ayurveda and Western schemes list fire, earth, water, earth and more other worldly ether. The Chinese system replaces ether with metal.
 Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi, Self-Realization Fellowship, 1974, p. 194-95